Academic journal article Woolf Studies Annual

Listening for "Found Sound" Samples in the Novels of Virginia Woolf

Academic journal article Woolf Studies Annual

Listening for "Found Sound" Samples in the Novels of Virginia Woolf

Article excerpt

[T]here is a music in the air for which we are always straining our ears --Virginia Woolf, "Street Music"

When we read to ourselves, our ears hear nothing. When we read, however, we listen.--Garrett Stewart, Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext

The musical undercurrents and aural quality of Woolf's later fiction prompts Garrett Stewart in Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext to claim that through her "poetic resonance" and "stray reverberations," Woolf performs the "vocal writing" that Roland Barthes valorizes in The Pleasure of the Text as necessary though not practiced by most writers (261, Barthes qtd. in Stewart 279). (1) While Stewart's analysis focuses on the verbal play and phonic elements of The Waves, I will focus this article on a more overt example of Woolf's performance of "vocal writing": her representation of sound. In order to discuss Woolf's inclusion of real-world sound, which progresses with each of her succeeding novels until it culminates in her last work, Between the Acts, I will make use of the musical term "found sound" sampling--the art of recording sounds from the real world such as sirens, rain, cars, street conversations, and using those sounds in an original musical composition. (2) The term "found sound" sampling allows us to account for not only the onomatopoetic sounds of "chuff" and "tick" mixed throughout Between the Acts, but also the street hawkers' cries, which intrude repeatedly in The Years, and the song of the old woman on the street heard in Mrs. Dalloway. This article will demonstrate how Woolf's use of "found sound" sampling forces a heightened sense of the aural into her narrative, which is sounded out by the "reading voice" of her reader. By examining Woolf's preoccupation with sound representation and the aural dimension of her fiction, moreover, we can gather a more complex sense of her modern notions of community and individuality, whereby her characters are momentarily united, as if in a chorus, through their shared aural experiences, though they are simultaneously separate, individual, isolated.

Modernism and the Beginnings of "Found Sound" Sampling

While it is often assumed that musical sampling is only a digital phenomenon, for the purposes of this project, I propose that any recording technology that enables the reuse of a sound in a new composition is, in essence, sampling. (3) With the growing usage of the phonograph and gramophone, invented by Edison in 1877 and improved by Emile Berliner with the replacement of records for cylinders in 1887, composers began to experiment with the art of sampling in the early 1900s. Since the first marketed phonographs were not advanced enough to play music, they were advertised as devices that could record and replay an assortment of sounds, heralding a new fascination with noise. For instance, an advertisement for the Edison phonograph from The Illustrated London News on February 3, 1900 assured readers that they could hear "the HUMAN VOICE, the NOISE OF THE CATARACT, the BOOM OF THE GUN, the VOICES OF BIRDS AND ANIMALS" (qtd. in Morton 224).

One of the first composers to explore the use of everyday noises and sounds as musical components was the Futurist painter turned composer, Luigi Russolo, who used the real-world sounds of whistles, engine motors, and hissing in his 1913 performances of Awakening of a City and Meeting of Automobiles and Airplanes--compositions performed with Russolo's hand-made noise instruments, intonarumori. As early as the 1920s, the French composer Darius Milhaud changed the speeds of phonograph recordings to manipulate the sounds for musical compositions, and the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi used the phonograph to include the songs of nightingales in his orchestral composition, Pines of Rome (Ernst 7). George Antheil, an American composer who worked with James Joyce on an adaptation of his Cyclops Episode entitled "Opera Mechanique," was notorious for his composition Ballet Mechanique, which included car horns, airplane propellers, saws and anvils. …

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